Anatomy of a convention

     Law enforcement conventions often are gatherings sponsored or convened by private businesses to benefit enforcement professionals. If they are successful, everyone leaves with something. If poorly planned, they look like an infomercial.

     In the past few years, conferences, seminars and trade shows for law enforcement had been enhanced by the inclusion of seminars and recertification. For example, at the Cygnus Law Enforcement Group's Enforcement Expo 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio, continuing education courses approved by the Ohio State Attorney General were available for attendees. Peace officers in Ohio could fulfill their continuing education units requirement while attending the regional show.

     Law Enforcement Technology had the opportunity to attend the 2007 TASER conference in Chicago, Illinois, which is designed for active law enforcement and military. This convention contained the correct amount of emphasis on training.

     The highlight of the convention was the product launch of the XREP (eXtended Range Electronic Projectile), TASER International's newest product, designed to be launched from a 12-gauge shotgun. This announcement was reserved for CEO and co-founder Rick Smith.

     Smith also announced the strategic alliance of iRobot, the TASER Shockwave and C2. The iRobot alliance will extend the tactical capabilities and officer safety by integrating an electronic control device (ECD) with a mobility platform. The Shockwave is an area denial device that utilizes an array of six TASER cartridges designed to fire simultaneously. The C2 Personal Protector is a TASER device appropriate for the civilian market.

     After announcing the iRobot alliance, attendees were given the opportunity to individually share their input on the best applications of the equipment.

     Apart from the XREP launch, the conference accomplished four important functions: training and recertification, information sharing, product feedback, and most importantly, networking.

     Smith, also functioning as keynote speaker, set the tone of the conference's mission: make law enforcement, military and security better, safer and more efficient. The vehicle for this mission is not equipment, but training. TASER's reputation for thorough training, data collection and end-user support has benefited law enforcement in 44 countries.

Training and recertification
     Forensic expert Dr. James Cairns provided attendees with a technical seminar on excited delirium, peppered with bold humor.

     Excited Delirium Syndrome (EDS) is a term usually associated with in-custody deaths following a prolonged or intense struggle. Cairns provided the audience with a comprehensive description of recognizing the danger signs of excited delirium and drove home the seriousness of the condition. He explained several unassociated conditions that may be contributing factors to EDS, including defining the group with the highest risk.

     Cairns' experience with excited delirium could be considered extensive after decades of investigations. He reinforced some of the published information about ECD use and EDS. For example, he stated that the ECD pulse waveform is similar to waveforms used for cardiovascular treatment.

     The Master Instructor Certification class, a certificate good for two years, followed the initial part of the TASER conference. It emphasized participatory training, guidelines for creating use-of-force policy, risk management and instructional techniques. The session went 5 days and required students to have a comprehensive understanding of behavior, dynamics and mechanics relevant to ECD deployment.

Information sharing
     Police efforts are commonly hampered by inaccurate media reports. Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for TASER, demonstrated some of the media debunking strategies that keeps professionalism in the profession.

     First, TASER uses scientific data collection to maintain their human exposure database. They have recorded an estimated 247,000 volunteer human exposures and more than 13,000 documented use-of-force reports in their database. According to Tuttle, TASER products are the "most studied non-lethal weapon(s) to date."

     Tuttle explained that although the company is a well-known brand name, reporters regularly use the TASER name for any ECD use. Like any law enforcement incident reported in the media, an incomplete truth or deliberate misrepresentation is a bell that is hard to "unring."

     The strategies that Tuttle outlined were essential public information officer (PIO) training. Keeping the media accurate in the law enforcement world is an ongoing process. For example, court reporters, even with education and/or on-the-job training, can invariably report whether a defendant is guilty or "innocent," a misnomer.

     Tuttle gave examples of inflammatory material, like a news story declaring a "TASER death," yet the case hadn't even reached the medical examiner's desk, and another that mentioned the brand when a different product was used. Tuttle discussed some of the prominent facts of public information, like a recent International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) study that suggests videotaping an incident protects the officer about 98 percent of the time.

     Tuttle's proactive approach for PIOs included specific tools on what agencies can do for liability reduction and media accuracy. For example, the phrase "TASER failure" is often substituted for a more correct term, "ineffective deployment." The former indicates a mechanical issue. An ineffective deployment can be attributed to many other factors beyond the end-users control.

     Tuttle also provided users with accurate language usage with phrases like, "Officer Smith deployed a TASER for one cycle" as opposed to "the officer shocked."

     Educating the public and providing them with disarming transparency is probably the best approach for the law enforcement agency. One thing Tuttle outlined in this information is the consistent reduction in officer injuries, suspect injuries and citizen complaints where ECDs were introduced.

Product feedback
     Training director Ken Mobly of the El Paso (Texas) Police Department and Capt. Jeff Eddy of the Jefferson Parish (Louisiana) Sheriff's Office shared their agencies' usage of the ECD. The El Paso PD discussed its training, deployment and certification policies, while Jefferson Parish shared its training management and equipment issue tools. Both agencies gave everyone concrete examples of training management and "lessons learned."

     During the breaks, officers were invited to voluntarily receive an ECD pulse. This is one of TASER's most important aspects: the company is circumspect about data collection. TASER users worldwide have endured exposure for the sake of data collection. This has provided a comprehensive use-of-force database. Company representatives who stand behind TASER products have stood in front of them a time or two.

     The greatest benefit of conventions is not even on a presenter's schedule. This benefit appears months later when the officer is in the middle of an investigation and remembers a conversation about the construction of a hidden compartment on a certain brand of vehicle, the viscous patterns of blood spatter made by an unusual injury or a recent stare decisis.

     It is said that many business transactions take place on the golf course. In the law enforcement industry, officers create new contacts and share information during breaks and meals. Sending an officer to a training convention is expensive. Agencies must pay for transportation, meals, hotels and fees, as well as overtime pay to officers covering for those at the conference. But, no price can ever be placed on the value of networking.

     What makes a good convention? First, the presenters must be competent and experienced. Second, the material must be recognized as having a certain degree of empirical validity. That is, the presenter should be able to produce the source of their statistics and information. After all, any training an officer attends, regardless of its source, is discoverable. If the training has resume-building value, it is worthwhile.

     Law enforcement officers can all read advertisements, download videos and look at catalogs. The "hands on" time with the products, institutional knowledge developed from usage and "lessons learned" are the reasons why officers need to attend conventions. They need to walk away with a handful of business cards from product representatives, who love to hear from them, and other officers whom they will reconnect with.

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches Administration of Justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California.